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Canada declares the Proud Boys a terrorist group

Proud Boys appear at a rally for Donald Trump in Washington on Dec. 12. (Evelyn Hockstein for The Washington Post)

TORONTO — Canada on Wednesday declared the Proud Boys a terrorist entity, adding the far-right group to a list that includes al-Qaeda, ISIS and al-Shabab in an effort to crack down on "ideologically motivated violent extremism," described by the country's public safety minister as the "most significant threat to domestic security."

The announcement by Public Safety Minister Bill Blair came less than a month after some Proud Boys joined the violent mob that stormed the U.S. Capitol after attending a rally by then-President Donald Trump in the hope of overturning the presidential election. Five people, including a Capitol Police officer, died in that attack.

It also followed a warning last week by the Department of Homeland Security about the heightened threat of “ideologically motivated violent extremists with objections to the exercise of governmental authority and the presidential transition” and “perceived grievances fueled by false narratives.”

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Designation as a terrorist group carries financial and legal consequences. Police can seize the property of the group or its members; banks can seize their assets. It’s a crime to knowingly provide assistance to a designated group to facilitate or carry out attacks. Group members may be denied entry to Canada.

The government also listed the Atomwaffen Division, a neo-Nazi group whose members participated in the violent 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville; the Base, another neo-Nazi group; and the Russian Imperial Movement, a Russian nationalist group with members linked to violent activity abroad.

“These groups are unfortunately active in Canada and around the world,” Blair said. “Their violent actions and rhetoric are fueled by white supremacy, anti-Semitism, racism, homophobia, Islamophobia and misogyny.”

During the first presidential debate Sept. 29, President Trump told the Proud Boys to “stand back and stand by.” Here’s why they are defined as a hate group. (Video: The Washington Post)

Also added to the list were eight groups affiliated with al-Qaeda and the Islamic State, as well as Hizbul Mujahideen, a militant Kashmiri liberation group.

Senior government officials said they were not aware of any other jurisdiction that has designated the Proud Boys as a terrorist group. They said the Capitol insurrection was not the “driving” factor, but it did produce a “trove of information” that was added to the intelligence reports that informed the decision.

The Canadian government says ideologically motivated violent extremism includes xenophobic violence, anti-authority violence, gender-driven violence and grievance-driven violence not clearly affiliated with an organized group but shaped by “echo chambers of online hate.”

The Proud Boys was formed in 2016 by Vice Media co-founder Gavin McInnes, a Canadian. The far-right, male-only group of self-described “Western chauvinists” has a history of street violence, including against Black Lives Matter demonstrators.

Canada said the group played a “pivotal role” in the attack on the Capitol, and that “leaders planned their participation by setting out objectives, issuing instructions and directing members during the insurrection.”

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Analysts say the Proud Boys were emboldened when Trump, pressed during the first presidential debate to condemn the group, told members to “stand back and stand by.”

Asked whether there was evidence that the Proud Boys pose a “serious security threat to Canada,” Blair said, “Absolutely, yes,” and cited a “serious and concerning escalation” to violence in the aftermath of the U.S. presidential election.

White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Wednesday the U.S. government was conducting its own review.

Security analysts in Canada have warned of the threat of right-wing extremist groups here, bolstered by transnational alliances they’ve built with counterparts in the United States and Europe.

“We are more and more preoccupied by the number of ultra-right-wing extremists,” David Vigneault, director of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, told a Canadian Senate committee in 2019.

Several months later, Canada announced that the neo-Nazi groups Blood & Honor and Combat 18 would be the first ideologically motivated extremist groups to be included on its list of terrorist groups.

Public Safety Canada reported in 2018 that it was “concerned about threats posed by those who harbor right-wing extremist views.”

It cited several examples of right-wing extremist attacks in Canada, including the fatal shooting of three Royal Canadian Mounted Police officers in 2014 by a man motivated by anti-law enforcement and anti-government beliefs and a 2017 shooting in which a man who was “motivated, at least in part, by his self-admitted fear of Muslims” killed six worshipers at a Quebec City mosque.

Neither of the men were charged with terrorism offenses.

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In 2020, a 17-year-old accused of fatally stabbing a woman at a Toronto massage parlor became the first Canadian charged with terrorism in a case connected to the “incel,” or involuntary celibate, ideology.

Canadian lawmakers voted unanimously last week to urge the federal government to designate the Proud Boys as a terrorist entity “immediately,” but the move drew a backlash from anti-hate groups and national security analysts.

They said the nonbinding measure risked politicizing what’s supposed to be a legal process guided by evidence and intelligence. Others asked why groups with ideological similarities to the Proud Boys weren’t also listed.

Blair said politics played no role in the designation. He said the government is constantly monitoring and gathering intelligence to inform its decision.

Before Wednesday’s announcement, the Canadian Anti-Hate Network expressed concern that the definition of a terrorist entity would have to be expanded to accommodate the Proud Boys. The group worried that a looser definition could be “exploited” to target anti-racist groups and people of color in the future. In a post on its website, it said Blair assured them that the Proud Boys “more than meet the criteria.”

The listing process begins with the drafting of criminal and security intelligence reports detailing “reasonable grounds to believe that the entity has knowingly carried out, attempted to carry out, participated in or facilitated a terrorist activity.”

Those reports are submitted to the public safety minister. If the minister is satisfied that the relevant criteria for listing the groups has been met, he or she can make a recommendation to the cabinet to place the group on the list.

Felicia Sonmez in Washington contributed to this report.

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